Apply first and hopefully the affordability works out. Each year many students use this approach when applying to colleges. Sadly, they often apply to multiple colleges that are out of their family’s affordability range. An additional affordability component that is rarely considered is the four-year total cost of attendance. Tuition, fees, room and board costs are subject to annual increases which widens the affordability gap. It is not hard to understand why student loan lending is exceeding over 1.6 trillion dollars.
Prepared families know that in order to finalize the college list for their son or daughter, serious college affordability conversations start in the fall of the high school senior year. If colleges are not in their desired affordability range, the fall still allows ample time to adjust their college list appropriately
Where should families start with their college affordability conversation?
Know your budget and set realistic expectations – Each family considers paying for college with a different perspective. Some families have more savings designated for college while others have less savings. Some families equate higher tuition costs with better amenities whereas other families look for value colleges. Regardless of the perspective, there are wonderful colleges at all price points where students can succeed. Having an open family conversation about budget when beginning the college journey helps everyone stay realistic. I have experienced that many students are receptive to taking out high loan amounts which ultimately need a parent to cosign. This creates stress in the family as many parents struggle with signing off on large loan amounts.
Have a balanced college list – I find this can be a very challenging college planning to-do item for parents and students to do alone. There are 4,000 colleges throughout the country. Choosing the right colleges for application quickly becomes an overwhelming task. An effective college list has a blend of public and private colleges. The list should have colleges at all price points and try to identify institutes that provide their own institutional merit aid regardless of a family’s need-based eligibility. Some colleges are more generous than others with the merit aid that they provide. I take pride in helping a family to understand merit aid ranges at desired institutions as we shape and finalize a college list together.
Be realistic about scholarships – I am a big proponent of scholarships to offset the rising cost of college education as I also fund my own company scholarship. However, students generally need to apply to multiple scholarship opportunities to potentially win one. National scholarships have larger award amounts than local scholarships but also have higher applicant pools. I encourage families to be aware of the terms of the award payment that each scholarship offers. Many families are disappointed to learn the majority of scholarships are a one-time payment and not renewable over four years. Be in control when shaping a college list that fits your budget, and target scholarships that will enhance the affordability.
An important college affordability conversation in the fall can help avoid a shock in the spring when tuition bills arrive. Colleges, like many businesses, have a net price cost that they must uphold for their services in order to remain in operation. Families who understand the “net price” at the start are better able to safeguard their college investment ahead and avoid excessive loan debt. If you are uncertain of how to begin your family’s college affordability conversation, please contact Campus to Career Crossroads today.